All posts by subu7023

I'm a (mature) student of the social services with some background in publishing and a degree in history. I've seen suburban poverty through involvement with a drop-in centre.

(169) Walking Home [Book review]

Walking Home: the Life and Lessons of a City Builder
Ken Greenberg, Vintage Canada, 2011
384 pages with illustrations

Easily placed on suburban-poverty.com’s “buy this book” list, Walking Home shares the fruits of an enviable career working to help save cities, make them meaningful places.  Greenberg is an architect/planner schooled early in the value of real cities during an era in which they were abused and derided, mainly on behalf of the automobile.  Walkability, mixed uses, respect for historic precedent and the enhancement of the public realm and the taming of the car were the stuff of Greenberg’s career.  His book touches on Amsterdam, Copenhagen, New York, Boston, Paris, Detroit, Washington DC, Saint Paul, San Juan (Puerto Rico), Quebec City, Toronto, Ottawa, Mississauga, and Prince Albert (Saskatchewan) and other places.

Greenberg allied with Jane Jacobs during his time in Toronto, Canada, where he found a progressive city genuinely open to progressive urbanism and enjoying a heyday of liveability and growth.  Like Jacobs, a transplanted American, Greenberg built experience in a number of Canadian cities and in Europe.  The United States proved resistant to progressive urbanism but in time Greenberg built significant experience there with the growth of interest in New Urbanism and the emergence of the sense that all was perhaps not so well with car-centric, zoning-driven suburban sprawl and the neglect of major city centres.  All good and interesting reading at suburban-poverty.com where the link between the physical reality of suburbia, its design and character has been established as a source of its emerging poverty.  Here’s how we resist that poverty – with a maximum application of brain power to our environment.

Because of the slow acceptance of the kind of change advocated by the New Urbanism, smart growth and similar schools of thought, tracing themselves, like Greenberg to the influence of Jane Jacobs, we often encounter improvements to suburbia as nothing more than conceptual schemes, pie-in-the-sky ideas that are attractive enough on paper or in student design charettes but that are scarce-to-non-existant in the real world. The world where we find ourselves driving past the same old strip malls to return a DVD about Peak Oil to a library surrounded by a parking lot.  How good it feels to encounter someone who has actually been making it real out there for decades.

Greenberg’s experiences in Canada were welcome reading.  Greenberg found a laboratory here where he was able to exploit differences in the system and social consciousness of Canadians in the 1970s and 1980s that gave him practical experience.  He laments the changes wrought here with the adoption of miserable and misguided neo-conservative ideology since.  Greenberg’s take on how Toronto lost its position of leadership is depressing reading.  A similar hint of tragedy and the squandering of opportunity was found in a recent posting, a review of Taras Grescoe’s book Strap Hanger.

One of Toronto’s massive suburbs, Mississauga, also appears in Walking Home.  Even there, money and committment are finally being attached to the idea of a better built city.  Also, the home of suburban-poverty.com this is heartening to see.  At one time the old, downtown, preamalgamation City of Toronto offered a positive model to the headless monster of a high growth Mississauga.  We now find both places struggling to do better.  Toronto to keep what it has in terms of new/smart urbanism.  Mississauga to get its hands on some of that magic after decades of unoriginal, low density development.

Without the best possible design human communities will flounder, become unsustainable, unpleasant places where living and doing business will be retarded.  A failure to really grasp how to build proper cities will impoverish their residents as quality of place is a major selling point.  The value of quality of place is undeniable, either as a selling point within a growing global economy or in the retreat from the chaos and disorder of the global economy.  Greenberg’s project work and philosophy offer powerful arguments in support of quality of place.  This book should have very wide appeal to nearly any kind of political view, to voters, citizens, taxpayers, activists and students alike.

One fault, so small in comparison to the rest of the book we hate to bring it up, but…  We wish Walking Home had better illustrations or a URL for a purpose-built web site.  So much of the matter of city-building is visually-driven that the text would have been powerfully complemented by better imagery.  This is the Internet age and the delivery of such material is neither costly nor complicated.

Greenberg Consultants Inc

Ken Greenberg Talks Flexible Urbanism in New Book 
Review on Spacing Toronto site

(168) Gina Rhinehart

One thing about having a blog of one’s own is that you can say anything you want on it.  To wit: Gina Rinehart is a vile sack of dogshit.  Worth $30 billion dollars, the richest woman in the world, and all she can come up with is wage cuts?  No imagination whatsoever, …and this is supposed to be some great global era for business, for the art of deals, for entrepreneurship, for people like Gina.  Book shops are jammed with corporate histories, volume after volume about leadership and making money.  The language of business, free trade and supposed efficiency of markets dominates everything now.

So much privilege and opportunity at the top and this is all we get?

Gina Rinehart calls for Australian wage cut BBC

photo: NASA via Wikimedia Commons

(167) Where are the suburbs?

Looking for SuburbiaHopefully suburban-poverty.com’s readership had a restful, thoughtful long weekend.  We gave the Research Department their day off and spent some time online ourselves looking into all things suburban.  Curiously, we found a Wikipedia page we knew would be of interest from the title alone: List of Largest Suburbs by PopulationAlas, the entry lacks references which made us a little wary.  A quick check via Google and the numbers seem roughly correct, just a little out of date. 
So, looking through the list of incorporated exurbs with at least 700,000 people a couple of things stand out.  First, we recognized only four or five of thirty-seven places.  All but one of the largest suburbs are in fast-growing Third World countries, with the exception of Japan and South Korea.  Only a single place on the list was in a First World, English-speaking country: Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.  …this also being home turf for suburban-poverty.com!!!

(166) Is it a design problem?

Meet St Barbara.  Until Rome demoted her a few years ago she was the patron saint of architecture …and also those who work with explosives.  Kind of an exciting job description.  We hope she’s looking out for us in these precarious times. Given the built environment and economic uncertainty many are stuck with we are gonna need all the wisdom with architecture and explosives we can get our hands on.

Who doesn’t idealize the artist, the architect, the engineer, the designer their ability to go from nothing to something, that is to create, to bring a thing into existence?  It makes sense then that in attempting to comprehened suburbia we turn to the creative class?  Almost since they were invented suburbia has provoked a diversity of critique and brought forth those with a desire in their hearts for something better.  Is it possible that even the growing social difficulty facing suburbia is a design problem?

Allison Arieff thinks so.  She has been professionally involved in design and architecture in America and last year gathered some of her thoughts in the opinion piece linked in this posting, making it dynamite to read.  Ms. Arieff sees people with very low expectations of houses.  People willing to accept boring, unimaginative, sometimes downright shoddy, drywall boxes cranked out and marketed by an innovation-resisting industry that produces something like half of all solid waste in the country.  Acording to Ms. Arieff the commercial building industry is capable of producing a better product than the residential construction industry.  This all seems like a disservice to American consumers and their communities.

Unfortunately the American suburban paradigm is not going to be changed any time soon because it will be too busy being dead.  A couple of postings back we learned that the number of unwanted monster homes in America is in the tens of millions.  Kinda tough to think the industry that produced that is going to set aside its hucksterism and conservatism for a design-ey new approach to everything.  Still, just as the dinosaurs were replaced so too will the homebuilders of America be replaced.  Ms Arieff provides a survey of several builders going in the right direction in terms of energy efficiency, construction methods and cultural value in homes.  Hers is a call for change and action, that of a new Saint Barbara?

Shifting the Suburban Paradigm NYT Opinionator

This article has nearly 170 comments at the time of this posting, including some very thoughtful ones.

(165) Ontario Common Front [Report]

Labour Day long weekend is upon us and most of the population of the province of Ontario will pile onto the 400-series highways.  A crush of motor vehicles bookends the final days of summer for those with access to lakes, cottages, boating and so forth.  Such privileges are meant to be enjoyed and Ontario, especially its densely populated southern parts, has been a busy province these past six or so decades.  The economic statistics for Canada’s largest province are staggering, 12.8 million people crank it out to the tune of over 600 billion dollars a year.  A shade more GDP than Sweden.  That makes Ontario the 25th largest economic unit by GDP in the world and the source of 40% of the Canadian economy.  All the more depressing then to come across another negative report about poverty and inequality and threats to the standard of living in Ontario.  A place that built 2.1 million automobiles in 2011, many for export all over the world.
A couple of days ago Ontario Common Front (see their Facebook page) released a report placing Ontario at the bottom of the list for social program spending, access to programs and support for public services.  Education, health care and the affordability of housing are also examined and found problematic.  We can’t think of anything directly related to the standard of living and quality of life of the population here that has been left out.  Something like 100 labour groups are part of this organization and the report is dense with worrisome statistics.  In turn, we fear it will get too little media attention as Ontarians enjoy their last weekend of the summer, and begin to think about sending children back to school.  Nonetheless, an election is coming.  One in which a reasonable centrist government will come under attack by eager neo-conservative/neo-liberal forces.  Perhaps this report will be a wake up call to all concerned?  National news outlets and most provincial newspapers with an online presence have picked it up.

Falling Behind: Ontario’s Backslide Into Widening Inequality, Growing Poverty and Cuts to Social Programs weareontario.ca

image: Wikimedia Commons
statistics: internet

(164) Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA seems to have taken its share of hits over the last five or so years.  Too bad really.  As a city of culture, with terrific old architecture, it had begun to recover and find itself in the post-industrial era, even doing better than many large cities in the northeastern United States.  Still, the real estate flippers, the “we buy houses: cash fast” crews are finding plenty of opportunity in amongst the foreclosures.  This piece from the Atlantic tells a tale of tragedy and opportunity intertwining.

‘We Buy Houses’: Decline and Opportunity in Pittsburgh’s East Suburbs

photo: Jim Orsini via Wikimedia Commons

(163) Inequality and health in England [King’s Fund report]

Crossing the pond to the United Kingdom from Canada we find at least  two things much the same.  The first is a public health care system.  The second is that despite the latter the richer the person the more likely they are to be in good health and live longer.  At least, that is the finding of a think tank called the King’s Fund.  They have taken a longer term look at diet, smoking, exercise, and drinking.  Not exactly a pretty picture, the influence of these things on the cost and provision of health care.

Class divide in health widens says think tank Guardian

Clustering of unhealthy behaviours over time: implications for policy and practice King’s Fund site

(162) Inequality and health in Canada [CMA report]

This post introuduces the Progressive Economic Forum to suburban-poverty.com’s readers with an item confirming the relationship between income levels and health in Canada.  PEF cites a new Canadian Medical Association report.  It seems that Canadians remain fortunate people in terms of health and wellness but a gap has opened up based on income.  If you are poorer you die sooner and have more problems over the years.  The author of this piece supports the view that beating up on the poor for bad lifestyle choices is too often used as an easy out for explaining the social determinants of health.  An item on the same CMA report on the CBC website got just over 800 comments in a short time.  Clearly this is an important issue, one Canadians know to feel strongly about.

To address health inequalities, look beyond the role of individual responsibility PEF

‘Wealth equals health,’ Canadian doctors say: lower-income groups report poorer health CBC.ca

CMA poll finds “worrisome” gap in income-related health status CMA.ca

(161) Tropical disease

This is alarming and awful: a New York Times Sunday Review piece about poverty and public health in the United States.  It seems lessons are imminent about the major relationship between tropical disease and poverty as found in warmer areas and among families living on as little as two dollars a day.  Low standards of living – and low expectations of assistance with the problems associated with such standards among certain ethnic groups – appears to be setting up a disaster featuring such things as cysticercosis and toxocariasis (worm infections), cutaneous leishmaniasis, murine typhus and Chagas disease.  Such a development is accompanied by cutbacks at the Center for Disease Control.

From the article by Peter J Hotez:

“They disproportionately affect Americans living in poverty, and especially minorities, including up to 2.8 million African-Americans with toxocariasis and 300,000 or more people, mostly Hispanic Americans, with Chagas disease. The neglected tropical diseases thrive in the poorer South’s warm climate, especially in areas where people live in dilapidated housing or can’t afford air-conditioning and sleep with the windows open to disease-transmitting insects. They thrive wherever there is poor street drainage, plumbing, sanitation and garbage collection, and in areas with neglected swimming pools.       

Most troubling of all, they can even increase the levels of poverty in these areas by slowing the growth and intellectual development of children and impeding productivity in the work force. They are the forgotten diseases of forgotten people, and Texas is emerging as an epicenter.”

Tropical Diseases: The New Plague of Poverty

(160) Too many monsters

It almost seems too easy to pick on the McMansion or Monster Home these days.  The bloated starter castles of credit- and bubble-driven pseudo prosperity indeed symbolize failure of the most brutal kind.  A recent study suggests that America has some forty million more of these homes than it actually needs.  Hard to imagine forty million of anything, let alone houses.  All that drywall, copper wire, wood, metal, plastic – the furnishings needed for them, the labour and energy put into them.  Talk about overshoot.
Big giant houses, no money down, to go with big giant SUVs and big giant plastic cups of endlessly refillable corn sugared soft drinks.  Did a bunch of seven-year-old boys design such a society?

Today’s monster home is likely to be tomorrow’s slum rental.

U.S. overbuilt in big houses, planners find: 40 million houses too many – one explanation for falling prices U-T San Diego

Photo: Merfam via Wikimedia Commons